By Thomas Gibbons
Like the old saying goes: sometimes, things have to get worse before they get better.
It’s a forgone conclusion now that Joel Quenneville was not the problem. The roster is. Stan Bowman and the Blackhawks just needed an excuse to cover their tracks. There have been too many questionable and wrongful decisions in the past few years that have set the Blackhawks back and took them off their winning path. Do I have to list them? No, because you all know.
This is not a winning roster. They lack forward depth and top defensemen. One way to fix it is blowing it all up. But that is hard when you have no movement clauses on the roster. There is really no way to fix the Blackhawks right now until the offseason when you have cap space and maybe a new general manager. It’s going to be an interesting couple of months here to see if the Blackhawks can squeeze into the wild card or the season is a lost cause.
et’s address the 8-3 loss to the Golden Knights Tuesday night in Chicago.
The Blackhawks found themselves down early, a familiar spot for the team this season. Brent Seabrook said the obvious in the locker room after the embarrassing loss. “We’ve got to be better from the puck drop. We’ve just got to be better. It’s just not acceptable to be playing the way we’re playing.”
It’s stating the obvious I know, but coming into Tuesday night, I saw this as a must-win game for the Blackhawks. They had a few days off and their schedule this weekend and into December is nothing short of difficult. The Blackhawks travel to Winnipeg on Thursday, Nashville on Saturday, back home vs. Calgary on Dec. 2 and then back to back vs. Anaheim and Vegas on Dec 5 and 6. Granted, any game in the NHL is not going to be easy but the Predators and the Jets are atop of the division. The Blackhawks are going to fall toward the bottom of the league in the coming weeks at this rate.
Look, the skill is there. Dylan Strome looked good in his debut, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Brandon Saad are having solid seasons, and Alex Debrincat, David Kampf, and Dominik Kahun is a solid supporting cast. But it’s obviously not enough, especially when Saad, Toews, and Kane are on the same line. There is nowhere near enough depth to put those guys together and win games. The defense is not the same with Henri Jokiharju out of the lineup and they lack top d-men right now. It’s a recipe for losing and we are really starting to see this is not a good hockey team and when they go down early, it’s hard to crawl back.
If I had it my way, this would be my lineup
Rutta, Manning rotate in
Roll this what. The lines are balanced with what the Blackhawk have and the defense does not look half bad.
Dylan Strome impressed me and Blackhawks fans tonight was a solid debut.
It’s too early to say who won the trade. You could say the Blackhawks won it getting two for the price of one but we won’t know until the season concludes. One reason I say the Blackhawks won the trade because I did not want to pay Schmaltz $5 million a year or more if he did not become a sensational forward. I did not want that holding up the books for the future.
Strome has a mixed bag of reviews from scouts and writers. Everyone seems to agree he is a very skilled player with great vision and stick skills. He has improved each season at the faceoff dot but the big question is does his speed fit into today’s game. But skill can hide weaknesses and if he produces at a consistent rate, no one is going to be held up on his speed.
I liked what I saw from Strome Tuesday night. He created some chances and was in the right place at the right time for his first goal in front of the home crowd. We knew the main focus would be his production at the faceoff circle and he did fine, winning 6 faceoffs of 15 or 40%. This number will hopefully get better but I’ll take 40% in his debut.
The Blackhawks defense will get a much-needed boost when Connor Murphy returns to the lineup in a week or so.
It was a rough first season for Murphy in Chicago. His numbers were poor and if you look at the advanced analytics, you wonder how he was still in the lineup and didn’t end up in the infamous Quenneville doghouse. He did not do a lot well but he will get another shot and the front office believe in him.
He will join a below average group and he will be an upgrade no matter where he is slotted in the lineup. Maybe a new system under Jeremy Colliton will benefit him. I want to see him do well because the Blackhawks need him and have to find out who is worth it and who to ship out of town.
Murphy is only 25. Now is the time to work with a young coach and work in his weaknesses. The Blackhawks need help more than ever at the blue line. Jan Rutta, Brandon Manning, and Brent Seabrook at times have looked awful and it’s up to Colliton to find out what works. Seabrook may be no more than a third pairing guy now. Can Murphy become a top-four guy? I think him and Forsling could work out well and the third pairing can be a rotation like it usually is. Keith and Jokihaju have to play together because both have played their best when together. Keith is still a top-four defenseman in this league and Jokiharju has risen to that level. Overall, I’m looking forward to Murphy’s return because we need to see different looks because what the Blackhawks have right now is not working out.
When you saw the lineup, Sikura is slotted in the third line. It was a small sample size last season and he did not impress in camp, but it’s time to get him up here. Here is a guy who can give you an instant offensive boost and having Alexandre Fortin on the other wing could work out really well. Maybe even a Fortin-Kampf-Sikura line could give you something with all that speed and skill. You need to find a spark outside your core guys. Strome is one spark but you need another. Kahun has been playing better of late so you have some young forward who is working out. It would be great for the organization if Sikura pans out to be a role player with top-six potential but a great third line wing. I want to see him soon and I thought his chance would have come already. Is this week finally his chance?
I hate seeing the Blackhawks like this. We have been given three cups in the decade and our expectations have remained very high. So when they play like they did Tuesday night, it’s extremely upsetting. There is really not much more to say. I’m not putting it on Colliton because he was just thrown into the mix a couple weeks ago and he does not have a lot to work with. After watching their past few performances, this weekend could be very ugly. I’m not giving up yet on a wild-card bid, but they are not doing a very good job convincing me they can squeeze into the postseason. Heck, they are only four points out but it can change, fast.